At age 17, my mother became the sole support of her parents The Depression had destroyed 50% of all manufacturing jobs in Chicago. Her father was a tool and die maker, a machinist–and sixty-years-old to boot, so…tough luck for him. He got the boot.
When the banker came around to demand their mortgage payments, he said, “Why don’t you take your daughter out of school and send her to work to pay the mortgage?” Mom’s parents had been united. Lillian Koroschetz had to finish her education.
The letters kept coming demanding mortgage payment, but the name on the letter was misspelled as Koroshetz (without the “c”), so she declared, “These aren’t for us,” and wrote, “Return to Sender” across each one.
Mom graduated in 1935 from Waller High School. As the top girl student in her class, she won a job, the best prize in those desperate days. But it was a cruel sham. When she arrived at Montgomery Ward’s (a large department store of the era), she (and several other top high school graduate “winners,” who had come to claim their “prize,” they were allowed to cool their heels for about three hours, and then told, “You might as well go hone. There are no jobs!”
Undeterred, Mom used every ounce of her formidable proactive nature to land a job at Sears Roebuck as a typist, turning over 75% of her earnings to her parents. But it wasn’t enough.
She came home from work one day to see all her family’s household belongings piled on the sidewalk, while all the neighbors gawked and whispered. Her despondent mother, sat staring at the ground, her husband’s arms around her shoulder.
Mom often told me of this moment – how her heart dropped; that her parents had lost their home so she could finish high school; how she never again would talk to her supposed “best friend,” who couldn’t wait to spread the news. “The Koroschetzes have been kicked out of their house!”
How must a man feel to know he can’t protect his family’s home? They had worked for years to own a two-flat, and even divided up their own apartment to get extra rent. They tried one business after another: a delicatessen, a machine-shop; a dressmaking business (her mother was graduated “Dressmaker” from Vienna). None was a success, but they got by.
As this blog moves forward, I’ll be sharing excerpts from my upcoming book, and presenting an eye-witness history of Chicago over time, as recorded by the people who lived through some of our city’s and country’s most tumultuous times.